The Empowering Qualities of Martial Arts

by Ryan Wilshusen
(Springfield, Virginia, The United States of America)

The sound of my body hitting the floor. It registers just before the pain. But that's fine, I'm having the time of my life.

Martial Arts have always fascinated me, ever since I was little. But my father was in the military, and constant moving made it hard to train. On top of that, having Cerebel Palsy that damages you physically rather than mental can be very hard to explain to a teacher, or instructor. I was born thirteen weeks early, and am extremely lucky I can even walk. However, my legs and hips are much more severly limited. So, there was only one solution.

Take what you can in a good program and your talents will blossom.

The only thing avalible when I was seven was Karate, a powerful Japanese Martial Art that many know about, but few actually study. I found a smaller school with an amazing, caring instructor who knew of my physical limitations in my legs because of the Cerebal Palsy. So he did something that took me off guard.

He altered the style for me. He taught me a form of Karate that fitted me. He taught me how to develop my upper body to blistering speeds while gently pushing my legs to develop. Soon, I didn't have much flexibility in my legs, but they were solid and strong enough to provide a base for my upper body.

But then we moved, to a place in Missouri that didn't have a large town, and didn't have a Karate Dojo. I was initally devastated, I thought I couldn't continue. But then I realized that maybe I could try something else. But there was only one school that was reasonably in distance: A Taekwondo Dojang. I did reasearch and was terrified. It was mainly focused on kicks. With my limited leg movements capabilities, what was I going to do?

What my old Karate instructor always told me to do: Go for it.

And did I.

My instructor was incredibly powerful, and a former police officer. He instilled in me an iron-will and a fire I'd never experienced. I didn't "settle" for a "decent kick" he pushed me further than I ever thought I could go. My kicks weren't able to be high, but they grew extremely strong. Then... after only two years of training...he decided to put me in for something that I didn't even know existed: The Taekwondo Worlds Tournament.

I was terrified beyond belief. Worlds meant facing people (in my mind at least) from Asia who could probably beat me using one leg. Being short didn't help my confidence either. My head was an easy target. But my instructor came through for me again. Worlds was around a few months away, and he and I trained. We trained for five days a week, five hours a day.

On forms, basics, sparring, weapons, but mostly fundamentals. Most of the kicks I had learned in my Dojang weren't legal for tournament sparring, they aimed too low. With the limited amount of time, my instructor made my upper body and lower body like an iron rod. We spend quite a bit of time on footwork and blocks. I couldn't use the limited amount of grappling my Karate instructor had taught me, but the principles of using size against my opponents applied. I learned how to conrol momentum to my advantage and how to get inside kicking range.

And when I was at Worlds, the most incredible thing happened. I won 1st place in forms, sparring, and weapons forms. My forms had been solidified before everything else, so I had no problems there. As for sparring, using the techniques my Taekwondo instructor taught me to block and get in range, I was able to use the knowledge and strikes my Karate instructor taught me to win.

Weapons forms were somewhat difficult. There are so many weapons you can pick. I picked the weapon I knew most about from Karate: The staff. And with that staff, I managed to practice not hitting myself about the head and shoulders and bring it into a cool, controled mass of motion.

The real messages I hope to impart to others are these:

The right instructor will make all the difference and help you overcome any limitation you'll have.

The right instructor will also care about your success and growth just as much as you, providing guidance and faith when you need them most.

And finally, all Martial Arts, regardless of what they are, will provide you with one thing: Perseverance; a word that unifies all types and level of Martial Artists.

Deb's Reply

Wow Ryan what a great post! Your story will inspire others to start down the martial arts path and to persevere however hard it gets.

And you are so right... a good instructor from day one is the key.

Congratulations on everything you've achieved so far and let us know how you go forwards from here.

Great stuff!

Deb :-)

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